Thursday, January 11, 2007

Are elephants more closely related to pigs or to cows?

Who's asking: Patrick Miller, Jacksonville, FL

Actually, neither. While elephants, pigs and cows are all mammals, elephants belong to their own lonely order, Proboscidea, which includes elephants, mammoths, and several other species that are now extinct.

Biologists put animals together according to what they have in common, and at one time they thought that elephants' thick skin was similar to the skin of pigs, so the two species must be related. As they looked more closely, however, they saw that pigs and elephants don't really have that much in common. Now taxonomists believe that the two living sets of animals most closely related to the elephant are the hyrax and the sea cow ("sirenians" -- isn't that a great name? -- manatees and dugongs).

The idea that elephants might be related to manatees makes some sense. But hyraxes?

At first glance, one of these things is not like the others. But since 1945, taxonomists have placed the three types of animals in a superorder called Paenungulates, whose distinguishing feature has something to do with the amino acid sequences in their red blood cells.

I'm guessing they don't schedule many family reunions, though.

In other news, it has come to my attention that this is National Delurking Week in Blogworld. I've already done my part on another site, commenting on a forum I visit often but never post to -- and immediately getting into a snarky argument with a frequent poster. Sometimes it's best just to lurk... but today and tomorrow, if you visit here often and never comment, won't you just sign in and say who you are and where you're visiting from? I'll be fascinated. Thanks.


Madley said...

Hello there from L.A.! Read ya everyday... love the questions, it's like getting Jeopardy in my mailbox! :)

Anonymous said...

Howdy! Kinda shy myself, but also here every day. I'm from Herrsching, Germany, which is outside of Munich. I also visit your blog from vacation sites, which could be just about anywhere at this point.

Anonymous said...

But I like to lurk!

Formerly stuck in Denver snow, now "enjoying" monsoon season in the tropics. At least you don't have to shovel!

AnswerGirl said...

Thanks, guys!

Carla, you have been silent much too long... I am sending you mail right now...

Samuel Benton said...

Ok so this may be unscientific but I strongly disagree with how far apart pigs and elephants are classified. They are far to similar to not be closer related. They both look fat, they both have short stubby tails in relation to their bodies, they have the same shaped mouths with little space between the nose and the top of the mouth. At the end of their noses/trunks they have the same looking snout. They both role around in the mud. They are some of the only animals with tusks and but unlike walrus and sabertoothed cats theirs grow outward and not down. They both role in the mud to get cool. The both have a furrier counterpart ( mammoths and boars). The only notable differences between them are their size and texture of skin and that is explained by where they are in the world. Elephants are bigger and have trunks because they get their food from trees while pigs get theirs from the ground. Why can't scientist see this. There must be something wrong with the species genus class order family kingdom classification system.